Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Sunday, April 17, 2016

2016 Jordan Lake 12-Hour Challenge

In what was my most impulsive registration yet, I signed up for a 12-hour run at Jordan Lake State Park a few days before race day, not really even considering it until a week ahead of time. Part of the motivation was knowing I have to do another Mont Blanc qualifier later this year and since a lot of my long run friends are injured, I'd likely have to sign up for a race to get the miles in. I did not register for this hoping to set a 12-hour personal best since I had hit 72 miles during the first half of the Freedom Park 24-hour run (on a flatish, paved loop.) This was single track trail and somewhat hilly. It was also much warmer than the New Year's Eve/Day run... Not knowing the course, I wondered why last year's winner "only" got 58 miles.

I got away about 2:00 on Friday and headed to Jordan Lake, planning to camp rather than find a hotel thirty minutes away. The only downside was that being tied up with the race all of Saturday, I'd have to breakdown and pack away everything at 5:30 a.m., hoping not to wake other campers. The campsites are not at the start/finish, but are about a five minute drive down gravel roads, all within the Park. I should add that there was one other downside to my camping idea, though it was unforeseen. As I got ready to eat dinner at the picnic table, a young guy from an adjacent campsite came over and talked my ear off for two hours. He was friendly, but new to being in the woods (nervous) and his friends had left to run get hot dogs and pick up another camper. At times I wondered if they had just left him. By the time they returned, it was about 8:00 and I just went to the tent to sleep.

Even with falling asleep around 8:30 and getting a pretty good night's rest, the alarm going off at 5:30 was still a surprise. I wonder how long I'd have slept without it? Moving as quickly and quietly as I could, I got everything packed away and lugged it all in one trip back to my car, arriving at the start/finish area at about 6:05 or 6:10. Plenty early for the 7:00 start. I had come out here the day before, when I arrived, and walked a little of the trail, but not enough to really have a feel for it. Lee and Phyllis had done the entire loop and gave me a general description. He found it hillier than Weymouth Woods, but kind of similar in many respects.

Since this was a 2.93 mile loop course, giving a mile-by-mile recap would be difficult and not very interesting. So, to describe the loop, there is a short out-and-back stretch in the parking lot where we cross the mat and pass by our tables. I backed into a parking space right by where we'd be running and put out a folding chair like I had at Weymouth. Lee had set up a larger tent a little farther away, but also placed a chair beside my car. On it, I put my PB&Js with Chia seeds, assortment of bars, S-caps & Tums, a lightweight white shirt and a towel. Underneath, I had a change of shoes and two gallons of water (in case their water was from a tap.)

There were 36 people registered and three relay teams with three runners each. I couldn't figure out who was on which team during the race, but later learned that the three 12 & 13 year-old girls I kept seeing were all on the same team. More about them later.

Though I knew better than to allow this to happen, I found myself being pulled out by the three relay runners. I wasn't alone in though, as one other runner was in our group of five. I was trying to run a comfortable, maintainable pace, but was certainly going out too quickly for a twelve-hour event. I was in first place among the individuals for about a mile or so and the other guy with me went on by. He assumed the lead and I would not see him again until the end of the race. I wouldn't catch up and he wouldn't lap me.

I do not have a GPS or a map to go by, but my general overview of the course is like this. Enter the woods and take a right. Minor rolling hills for the first mile or so and you will cross a gravel road and head down toward Jordan Lake. Just before the road crossing, they had a huge cooler filled with ice and bottled water for refilling. After you reach Jordan Lake and run around a cove, there is a long uphill. The trail then winds around with more small hills and the occasional view of the lake until you reach a point where our blue-marked trail forks and hikers can head off to the right onto the "red" trail. For some reason, there was a fire extinguisher at this junction and it became my reminder after the first couple laps that a big hill was ahead and to walk. This hill was shorter than the prior before it levels off at a kiosk and you run parallel to the road on a fairly flat stretch. After maybe 1/4 mile, the trail heads up and across the road for a couple hundred yards. At the top of this hill, it's all downhill to the start/finish area. A very runnable, fast downhill if you have your legs. There were roots and rocks along the trail, but almost always avoidable. The leaves on the trees were still pretty young and blocked some, but not all of the mid-day sun. Sections on the course benefited from a breeze coming off the lake which made it feel a bit better than the 60-70 degrees it ultimately reached. The start/finish area, on an asphalt parking lot, was actually the least comfortable part of the course, temperature-wise.

Now, in a nutshell, here's how my day went. The first few laps I spent running a little too fast, but still was getting lapped by relay runners who were switching out every lap or two. Occasionally, I'd catch up to an individual runner and go around. I made an effort to take an S-cap every 90 minutes. Maybe it should have been more frequently, but it was more often than the every two hours rate I had used in prior events. I tried to eat more solid food when I came through and by my chair. And I made an effort to drink a lot more often since my bottle only had to last three miles (and less if I took advantage of the cooler at mile one.)

Around mid-day to early-afternoon, at the base of the "fire extinguisher" hill, a single fly started buzzing me as I walked up the hill. He'd follow me across the road and to the start of the long downhill back to the start/finish, so maybe 5-8 minutes. Then, he'd be right back at the bottom the next lap, ready to follow me up and bug me. He was quite good at avoiding my swats and the only time I had success in getting rid of him was when I could go under a leafy branch and he'd run into it. But that only got rid of him for a few seconds and he'd find me again...

Loops can get old pretty quickly. The novelty of knowing exactly what lies ahead and when you might want to walk versus run wears off. In ultras, it's nice to be alone and occasionally see other people. With a loop--especially a small one--you are constantly passing or being passed by the same people. You run out of things to say ("Good job" only goes so far...) and

You'll see in my splits, that my time generally slowed each lap. This is partly due to adding more areas where I'd walk and also to spending more time at my chair refilling my bottle, talking to Phyllis, and eating something. It seemed that for most of the day, no matter how bad I felt on the course, when I hit that last downhill, it picked me up a bit, mentally.

Lap Splits vs. Winner

Lap #     Mile       Winner       Me       Minutes Behind
   1        2.93       24:29        25:26         0:57
   2        5.86       24:32        24:54         1:19
   3        8.79       24:29        26:09         2:59
   4      11.72       26:42        27:06         3:23
   5      14.65       26:20        28:30         5:33
   6      17.58       28:10        29:18         6:41
   7      20.51       28:12        31:06         9:35
   8      23.44       30:28        31:48        10:55
   9      26.37       30:01        32:17        13:11
  10     29.30       31:19        33:07        14:59
  11     32.23       33:25        34:21        15:55
  12     35.16       37:12        35:16        14:08
  13     38.09       35:09        37:06        16:05
  14     41.02       34:13        36:30        18:22
  15     43.95       33:30        36:22        21:14
  16     46.88       31:00        34:41        24:55
  17     49.81       36:58        35:27        23:24
  18     52.74       42:18        36:11        17:17
  19     55.67       34:55        38:13        20:35
  20     58.60       38:04        35:01        17:32
  21     61.53       49:52        34:29          2:09

Now, how the finish played out on race day was a funny story. I never saw the leader after the first lap and other than the timer (Brandon Wilson) telling me I was in second, I had no way of knowing if he was still on the course or had lapped me. When I went out for lap 19, right as I entered the woods, I bonked badly. My energy had just vanished even though I'd just come through my aid station. I walked a stretch that I had been running until this point and took a gel. After maybe 3-5 minutes, I felt better and was able to resume my run/walk strategy I'd used for the last several hours.

I finished that lap and figured I'd probably have time for two more if things went well. During lap 20, I was motivated that the next lap would certainly be my last (and give me roughly a 100K.) I came out of the woods and through the timing area and saw that it was 10:48. I figured as tired as I was, I'd probably have 40 minute lap and not have time for another after that. I asked Brandon if I could be caught by third place if I took it easy on the 21st lap and he looked at his computer and said "it's possible." Great, now I have to leave it all out there and hope I don't get caught. I really didn't change how I attacked this lap, just went at it with a bit more urgency than I had in prior loops. I didn't really look over my shoulder, but kind of like with Weymouth Woods, I worried they were gaining ground. I felt pretty confident when I hit the top of the hill and began my descent toward the start/finish area. I came out of the woods and approached the mat and saw Lee and the lead runner standing at the timing table.

I crossed the mat and the leader asked if I was going back out. I said I couldn't, "knowing" that I didn't have time to complete another lap and partial laps don't count. He said he wasn't going back out and that he had a really rough last lap (as the splits show) where he had fallen several times. Then I glanced at the clock. It was 11:23. If I could do one more lap in 36-37 minutes, I could win, assuming he didn't head out also. The key here, though, is that if I did not get back before the 12 hour point, it was for nothing. I had spent all my physical and mental energy on that 21st lap that I really didn't think I had it in me to go back out, so I congratulated him on his win. It wasn't until I later saw the splits that I realized just how much I had put into that last lap as it was my fastest lap since the 11th. Oh, and the guy who might have caught me? It turned out he was a lap down. He actually did come in pretty soon after I finished and went back out for one more, but I don't know that he finished that one in time.

This race was kind of a whim and was partly to keep my mileage up if I am going to do Grindstone or something long later this year. But, I rather enjoyed it. Laps are not my favorite, but I tend to do fairly well on them. Just as an aside, there was a relay team made up of three 11 & 12 year old girls. They changed runners each loop and over the course of the day, each of them ran a marathon distance. Might want to be watching for them to make some noise in the near future...

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